Kenya massacre: AP policy to bury lede?

Day after day, your GetReligionistas receive emails from readers that say something like this: "Please look at the following. Why do you think that (name of mainstream news organization) chose to (leave out or butcher a crucial fact) when covering this story? Is there something (some kind of politically correct policy) that requires them to do this?" In other words, people who have not worked in mainstream newsrooms have a tendency to assume (a) that the patterns they keep seeing are intentional and (b) that biases have actually been molded into written policies that, in effect, have become part of newsroom manuals of style.

Some of these complaints, however, come from readers who have mainstream experience or who remain in mainstream posts (and wish to remain anonymous).

It's hard to know how to answer these readers.

Truth is, there is no need for an explicit policy if almost everyone in a given newsroom is cut from the same cultural cloth on a particular issue. Thus, where some of our readers see conspiracies, your GetReligionistas tend to see a lack of intellectual diversity at work.

But, honestly, can't you understand the frustration of one reader with the following Associated Press report about the latest massacre of churchgoers in Africa?

This time, the bloodshed was in Kenya. Here's the top of the story:

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Gunmen killed two policemen guarding a church, snatched their rifles and then opened fire on the congregation from inside and out on Sunday, killing 15 people and wounding 40, security officials said.

Two gunmen entered the simple wooden church in the city of Garissa at around 10:15 a.m. Sunday, while two others waited outside, police commander Philip Ndolo said. When the congregation fled the attack inside, they ran straight into another hail of bullets from gunmen outside, he said. At least one grenade was detonated in the attack.

Overturned wooden benches littered the church afterward. A victim wearing a simple blue dress lay on the sandy earth outside. Witnesses reported seeing the four gunmen flee in dark blue outfits and masks. ...

The bloodiest of the two attacks came against the African Inland Church in Garissa, a city some 195 kilometers (120 miles) west of the Somali border. Ndolo said 15 people were killed and at least 40 wounded. A grenade attack against a second church in Garissa wounded three people.

Garissa Mayor Ismail Garat called the church assault "evil."

The reader who sent this in to us made a rather predictable comment: Why not report who did this this bloody deed? How far into the story must one read before that issue is addressed?

Eventually, readers do learn that police authorities told reporters that they wanted to conduct an official investigation before "assigning blame to the group many people in this region assume is at fault: al-Shabab, the most dangerous militant group in Somalia."

Now, curious readers would want to know something about this generic militant group, al-Shabab (or in some coverage, al-Shabaab). For some reason, the AP team decided to place this information in what seems to be the report's final paragraph -- the one most likely to be cut in the average newspaper. When describing the recent history of violence in the area, the story notes:

Kenya sent troops into Somalia last October to hunt al-Shabab fighters. The militants, who are allied with al-Qaida, have threatened repeatedly to carry out revenge attacks for Kenya's push into Somalia. Sunday's attacks appear to be part of that trend.

So, these generic militants are linked to al-Qaida. This would seem to be a rather significant fact. Our reader, in effect, wanted to know if AP now has a policy that requires links to militant Islam to be downplayed in coverage.

I do not know how to answer that question. I would say that burying this link to the world's most infamous Islamist terrorist network seems rather strange.

Apparently, the Washington Post team would agree. Thus, here is the Post lede:

NAIROBI -- Masked gunmen sprayed bullets and hurled grenades at two churches in a northern town in Kenya on Sunday, killing at least 15 people and injuring several, police officials said. It was the latest in a series of attacks in this East African nation suspected of being carried out by al-Qaeda-linked militants from neighboring Somalia or their sympathizers.

The coordinated assaults unfolded in the town of Garissa, a predominantly Muslim enclave about 120 miles from the border that Kenyan forces have used as a base of operations to fight Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabab militia.

That was easy. And how about The New York Times? Here is the top of that report:

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Masked gunmen hurled grenades into two churches in eastern Kenya on Sunday and then sprayed gunfire at fleeing worshipers, killing at least 15 people in one of the worst terrorist attacks Kenya has suffered in years.

When Kenyan forces stormed into Somalia eight months ago, Somalia’s fiercest militant Islamist group, the Shabab, vowed to wreak vengeance, saying it would topple Nairobi’s skyscrapers and kill Kenyan civilians. The skyscrapers are still standing, but militants believed to be connected to the Shabab have carried out more than a dozen attacks in Kenya, scaring off tourists and putting a serious dent in this country’s economy and sense of security.

Whatever happened with the AP report did not happen at the Post and the Times.

So, GetReligion readers (especially anyone out there who studies AP trends closely), do you have any non-conspiracy theories as to what happened in this case? Does anyone sense a coherent style policy at work?

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